Martha Reeves enjoys a festive 80th birthday with celebrities, soul food and Detroit style

Jul 19, 2021


For the first time in perhaps a long time, Martha Reeves was at a loss for words.

“There’s no way to describe the happiness I’m feeling today,” the Motown star said Sunday evening, several hours into a lavish, rollicking 80th birthday party with about 150 friends and family members. “It shows you how much I’m really loved, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.”

Reeves was in her customary spunky form as the bash rolled until midnight at the 10-acre estate of her close friend Bobbie Gingiloski in Armada, a village of 1,700 about 40 miles north of Detroit. Reeves spent much of the day wearing a crystal-studded tiara marked “80,” presented to her by Gingiloski.

“We’re dancing on the street out here in the woods,” Reeves ad-libbed early in the festivities while singing along to her trademark 1964 hit.

On a gorgeous summer day, the outdoor table decorations were adorned with plenty of purple — Reeves’ signature color — and centerpieces featuring vinyl 45 records from her lengthy catalog.

A table display featuring an original copy of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” at Martha Reeves’ 80th birthday party on July 18, 2021.
Music from Reeves’ Motown years with the Vandellas, as well as her later solo career, pumped from the sound system throughout the day.

Reeves, who acted as emcee as much as honoree at her own party, said she had made the DJ promise he would spin nothing but her songs at the party: “I don’t want to hear (the Supremes’) ‘Baby Love’ at all today,” she cracked.

Sixty years after her first professional recording work — contributing backing vocals to records on Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records — Reeves was the belle of the ball Sunday, met by many guests with greetings of “Queen of Detroit.”

Among those on hand were boxer Thomas Hearns, Motown’s Paul Riser, R&B singer Spyder Turner and officials with the administrations of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Crowded around Reeves’ table were her family, including her sisters, son, grandchildren and great-grandkids.

Boxer Thomas Hearns, left, with Martha Reeves on July 18, 2021, at Reeves’ 80th birthday party.
Many guests, including the founder of the United Kingdom fan club for Martha and the Vandellas, had traveled to Michigan for the occasion.

A representative for Brenda Jones read a tribute from the Detroit City Council president, who saluted Reeves — a former city councilwoman — for “representing Detroit around the world.”

An official with Duggan’s office read a City of Detroit proclamation honoring the Motown veteran, including a handful of biographical details fact-checked by Reeves on the spot. (“I sing soprano,” she piped up in protest to a description of her “alto” style.)

And Dion Williams, director of faith-based and urban affairs for Whitmer, presented a special tribute to Reeves from the Michigan governor.

Those were the only real formalities on a day that felt mostly like a breezy backyard party — albeit one with a very happy Detroit celebrity as the honoree. Guests dined on a selection of soul food from Pamelas Catering in Macomb County, including greens, beans, barbecue and shrimp-and-grits.

Martha Reeves, right, receives a special 80th birthday tribute from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, presented by Dion Williams, on July 18, 2021.
Sunday was the latest high point in a recent stretch of milestones for Reeves: She learned last month that she’s receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and her image has been omnipresent on newsstands this month as the cover of Hour Detroit magazine.

The party paused at one point for a lengthy video tribute featuring highlights and celebrity photos from Reeves’ life, along with birthday wishes from folks including Duggan, Whoopi Goldberg, Claudette Robinson (the Miracles), Scherrie Payne (the Supremes), Suzi Quatro and Freda Payne.

It also featured an appearance from Motown founder Gordy, who joked that at 80, Reeves was now older than he is. (Gordy turned 91 in November.)

“Thank you for helping make Motown what it is today,” Gordy said.